A request by a group of Russian nationalists for the State Tretyakov Gallery in Moscow to take down a painting of Ivan the Terrible murdering his son because it “insults patriotic feelings” has been met with a barrage of mocking memes.
The group, comprising members of the Russian Orthodox Christian organisation Holy Rus as well as conservative historians, sent a petition to gallery director Irina Lebedeva and Culture Minister Vladimir Medinsky last week, asking them to withdraw the painting because it “insulted the patriotic feelings of the Russian people” and “slandered the Russian people, the Russian state and the pious Russian kings and queens”. Lebedeva refused the request, adding that the gallery would now consider additional security for the painting.
The painting, Ivan the Terrible and His Son Ivan on November 16, 1581 by 19th century painter Ilya Repin shows the emperor holding his dying son in his arms after killing him in a fit of rage. Ivan the Terrible, credited by some for transforming Russia from a medieval state into an empire during his reign in the 16th century, has long been a symbol of Russian greatness among nationalists.
The painting has courted controversy ever since it was first unveiled not least because many dispute the claim that Ivan the Terrible killed his son. The Russian imperial government instantly banned it, although only for three months, and in 1913, a member of the Old Believers, a branch of the Russian Orthodox Church, stabbed the painting three times with a knife.
Since the request, the internet has been awash with memes under the title, Ivan the Terrible Kills Everybody, showing him embracing a number of well-known figures including Edvard Munch’s The Scream, R2D2 from Star Wars and Kenny from South Park.